November, 2015

John Pereira, Principal correspondent of The Observer of Management Education, in conversation with Richard Cowley, Founder, WorkAmmo, about his personal and professional experiences, the vision for WorkAmmo, and the future of HR.

Q: What is the purpose of your visit to India?

A: I have been coming to India for over 25 years now, and have developed strong bonds with this country and its wonderful people. The primary reason of this visit is to speak at the SHRM India conference in Delhi. I am also here to commence our entry into this impressive market, filled with opportunities for growth and transformation – which I believe we can help deliver.

Q: Though you did not possess formal qualifications, how did you manage to get trained in Mechanical Engineering and in HR?

A: The Royal Navy selection process was based on a number of factors, not just education. My passion to join and the core competencies were solid, I believe. I have high spatial ability, which is key to being an engineer. Once I joined the Navy, my leadership abilities, performance, and desire to achieve are what enabled my accelerated progress. I must add: today, many vocational programs demand the same.

Q: If the Royal Navy had not given you first opportunity, what would have been your other profession?

A: Oh, that is an incredibly good question! My passion to travel overseas would probably have led me to join a ship as a deck hand.

Q: Illustrate your journey from the Royal Navy to the present day.

A: My career in HR has spanned over 3 decades, always focused on building functional depth and breadth. After completing my stint with the Royal Navy, I joined British Aerospace in Saudi Arabia, a quasi-military organisation. Here, I took up multiple HR specialist roles (Recruitment, Government Affairs, and Organisation Development) as well as HR generalist roles. I left British Aerospace to grow my commercial HR experience, and joined DHL – a company with tight profit margins. This move enabled me come up with creative solutions as needed and ensure that everything we did added value, given our low budgets.

Later, I joined The Coca-Cola Company as a generalist – this was my early exposure to HR Consulting and Business Partnering. It provided a highly professional environment with great leadership. My regional (16 countries) specialist role enabled increased strategic and policy development. My first exposure to manufacturing environment was a blessing, budgets were sizeable and there was a high focus on people. My move to Asia provided an expansion of the global HR landscape. Initially, I served as an Asia-wide HR consultant, and later, a HR generalist for Kimberly-Clark, a role where my previous experiences enabled me to apply all my capabilities to my role.

I got the true business partner experience with my final job – encompassing the role of Sales and Marketing Capability Leader. This led to a mixed global Capability and local Country HR leader for Tetra Pak. The opportunity of this role to have global impact was significant and building and executing global strategies was very fulfilling.

A desire to own my own company focused on helping people achieve led to my next move. A focus on understanding the external recruiter, their challenges, and their needs has completed many pictures for me. Executing our ideas is my priority now.

Q: How did you overcome your battle with dyslexia?

A: The key was to recognise my disability, then of course to seek help. My learning difficulties were highlighted by the time it was taking me to complete the course work. Mrs. High had the answers – as an educational psychologist she was trained in evaluating individuals’ abilities. I still have her report. It provided detailed strategies to help me overcome and work to improve my dyslexia – it never goes away, I’m told. I am still challenged to spell; thank goodness for spell check!

Q: How do you justify that HR function has significantly more to contribute to the delivery of business objectives? What was your objective to enter this profession?

A: The justification is my absolute belief that it is people who deliver business opportunities. The development of strategies and their execution is in the hands of a company’s greatest asset – the employees. The HR team’s role is to partner with business leaders to build workplace environments, organisation capability, and HR strategies and policies that drive and support the delivery of business opportunities.

When I joined this profession, my goal was to be the best at what I do and to learn to use a computer – HR departments were the first to use computers in those days. Now my passion is to help people to achieve. This can be achieved in many ways, including helping improve the contribution of my great HR function – by helping business leaders, managers, team leaders, and individuals.

Q: What’s the vision of WorkAmmo?

A: WorkAmmo wants to help people achieve at the workplace, and build a future where workplaces are powerful contributors to flourishing economies. We want to do this by investing in individuals. We believe that when individuals achieve, teams achieve, organisations achieve, and economies achieve. WorkAmmo platforms seek to impact every level, across industries and geographies, to achieve this ripple effect.

Q: Explain something about your brand CareerLine.

A: CareerLine is a global online platform that aims to help you understand and build your career aspirations. It provides a private space where you can record your career milestones and journey across various stages of your career. It helps you take control of your career by bringing to you personalised information, opportunities and support to help you achieve your career aspirations.

Q: What is your message for the HR students and professionals?

A: Congratulations on joining one of the greatest professions on this planet! A profession where you can choose to contribute at the highest level, and help businesses and individuals achieve great things. At the core, I believe it is critical that we remember we are the custodians of the people function, and partner with leaders to find the balance between the heart (H) and the business rationale (R). This can be challenging. However, with consideration of the objective and candid, fact-based discussion, sound judgement and decisions will follow. A focus on treating others as customers versus believing that we are process owners with power of veto is critical.

Finally, I strongly suggest this simple formula to keep you focused on the right goals: Business Opportunity + Capability = Result. Understand and enable this, and you will become a great, not merely ‘good’, HR leader!

This interview first appeared in the print edition of The Observer of Management Education.